Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Truth is Complicated

Okay, so I'll admit that I thought of writing this post while watching Covert Affairs with the kitten on my lap.  The notion that the truth is complicated applies to plenty of us who aren't in the C.I.A.  The "truth" I'm talking about is this:
There's another reason why it's so hard for me when someone asks, "how's Max?".  The truth is, I don't actually know how he is.  That's not an easy thing for the mom of an 8 year old, and sounds very existential, or like I mean it has something to do with autism.  But I mean that I literally don't know how he is.  Dave and I talk to him about every 2-3 weeks, and we write to him a few times a week. 
He writes us a letter every week, but that doesn't help me understand how he is.  The first letter he wrote, on a scrap of paper that had obviously been balled up a few times, said "Dear Mom, I hate this place. I have no friends. I'm having even more fits than at home. I love you. Max B.".
So what do I do with that? The second letter was about 2 sentences, as well, on an equally abused piece of paper. I don't know how he is.  I'm like the anti-helicopter mom.  I don't know what he's eating or wearing, and I don't know how his school day is going.  I don't know what he's doing this, board games, hiking? No idea.  For all those moms who are out there over-achieving at this mom gig, I am pulling the average back to the middle by having no clue what my kid is up to at any given moment.
Now and then I talk to friends with kids who are thinking about where they might go to high school, and I always mention the wonderful Quaker boarding school I attended.  I think that boarding school is an amazing option, and allows growth of adolescents in a way that rarely happens at home.  I didn't choose to have an eight year old who needed this option, but I was always open to it for him later.  I just don't have words for what it feels like when someone says, in regards to their almost high-schooler, "but I could never just send my child away". 

It must be nice to have choices.

Monday, September 20, 2010

It's not just a cat

Over the weekend, Dave and I found two stray kittens in the woods near his parents' house.  Not really strays, I suppose. They'd obviously been abandoned there, close to a park.  We tried to rescue both, but could only manage to get one of them.  A beautiful black kitten, about 8 weeks old.  Tiny, really, and certainly not able to care for herself in the woods.

Henry was initially terrified, wondering what the heck we were thinking putting wild animals in the car, but he quickly came around.  I don't write about him much.  After all, he's the normal kid, the neuro-typical kid, the regular kid.  Whatever you want to call him, he's the collateral damage in our house.  When Max is home, he gets virtually no attention, and I spend the rest of my time trying to make up for those deficient, lean times.

But then Henry came around, and named the kitten Rosie.  We stopped to buy her a bag of kitten chow, some milk, a litter box.  We didn't really think we'd keep her.  I carefully avoided using her name, just saying "the kitten".  Henry has asthma, some allergies.  And did we want a cat?  Henry's been begging for a pet since Max left for boarding school a year ago.  We've been saying no all along.  Too much work, not enough time...the usual excuses.  We just didn't feel ready to take care of another living thing.  But then there she was.  Was this the way we'd get a cat?

We told Henry we would consider it, and then he started sniffling, sneezing, with itchy eyes.  Perhaps we couldn't keep the kitten.  A friend said that some people get used to the cat dander after a week or so.  So maybe we'd keep her...see how it goes.  Henry was...happy.  I don't want to make it sound like he's an unhappy kid, because he isn't.  He's generally okay, satisfied, happy-ish.  He's not the kind of kid who overflows with happy.  When I ask him how his day was, he always says "good-ish, bad-ish" no matter how great it really was.  It's like a daily hit in the gut, that this poor kid can't just enjoy a great day at his wonderful school, but it's a hit in the gut I've gotten used to.  How happy could I expect him to be, really?  His brother has been virtually taken away from him, and he's not any closer to making peace with that than his father or I am.

He went off to school just delighted.  Bouncing in his booster seat all the way to school.  He brought a photo of Rosie to show his classmates.  I was feeling good today, like a great mom, like I let the universe decide something for me by dropping a kitten in my lap, and aren't I clever?

Then the phone rang.  It was Henry's school.  He'd been wheezing, and needed his inhaler.  I tried not to assume that it was due to the kitten, even though he hasn't needed his inhaler over a month.  Bad luck?  His inhaled worked just fine, and he got on with his day at school.  I picked him up from school at the regular time and he just couldn't wait to get home to see Rosie.  He was going to play with her, and tell her a story.  He wanted to read her the book he'd brought home from school, all about colors.  He just seemed so relaxed, like Henry at his best.

But while we played with the kitten this afternoon, Henry started wheezing again.  He's never needed his inhaler twice in a day.  It felt ominous.  How do I reconcile these things? I feel like Henry's happiness hinges upon this kitten, but his asthma is a mess, and I do need to keep the poor kid out of the hospital.  I talked to Henry, and explained that we might need to find the kitten a different home.  He nodded solemnly, and said he was going to go watch TV alone.  Later, he cried in my lap, and told me that he just needed a pet so badly, and that he just had to have one.  If not Rosie, then maybe a dog? A guinea pig?

Damn it, I don't want a dog or a guinea pig.  I want to keep this kitten.  It feels unfair, AGAIN.  Why do my kids have to get the short straw over and over?  Why can't Henry just breathe like a regular kid?  I have so little to offer him.  I can't make his brother normal. I can't always protect Henry when Max lashes out.  I want him to be happy.  Not deliriously happy, not happier than anybody else.  I just want him to stop suffering such terrible losses and not feel so alone in this world.  He already feels like he's lost a brother...he's certainly lost anybody's idea of a brother.  Why does he have to lose this kitten too?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

This Time of Year

As anyone who has seen me around has surely noticed, I am not myself.  I'm feeling flat.  Not happy or sad, or angry, or fed up, just sort of flat.  Max is up at his new school, so the daily chaos has receded.  Henry's school has just begun, and I'm grateful that he's in a place that values him so thoroughly, and understands what he's been through.

But, really, we're always in it, rather than through it. The Jewish holidays are hard for a totally atypical Jewish family like ours.  I don't miss Max...that would imply that I wish he were here, and I certainly don't feel that way.  If Max were here, I would not be able to go to synagogue on Rosh Hashana, or enjoy a holiday meal with our family.  Of course, presently, I don't really feel like going to synagogue.  I will be surrounded by families, intact families with parents arguing with their children over going to the kids' programming, everyone complaining that kids should stop running in the hallways.  I'll be reading the prayers, wondering if I should really say these words that I don't believe.  I don't really feel that any deity has helped me out, and I certainly won't feel (on Yom Kippur) that I have anything to atone for.  Why should I atone when I'm already being punished?  Because if there is a G-d like the one we pray to on these High Holidays, then I want nothing to do with Him.

Mostly, the prayers of the High Holidays force me to imagine G-d as Star Trek: The Next Generation's Q
And then it doesn't feel like religion or faith anymore, it just makes me think about Will Wheaton and how damn funny he's been on Big Bang Theory.  But back to the synagogue experience.

I'm faced with everything my family isn't.  And people kindly ask about Max.  Many are shocked that I haven't brought him home from school for the holidays, which shows how much they know.  People ask how he is, but only give me about 4 seconds to respond.  It takes a few minutes for me to say how Max is.  I want to approach it slowly, and really tell them.  But hardly anyone actually wants to know.  I wish that I didn't know.  So, I give my usual answer, "well, you know" or "he's doing his thing".  I act like I'm all cool with how much THIS SUCKS.  Because hiding my feelings is key to being the cool chick that I am.  I act like I'm all philosophical.  I say stupid things about people having their own way, and Max being a different kind of person, blah blah blah.  But I'm in synagogue, and I'm supposed to be not angry at G-d, especially at the holidays, which is the only time I see most of these people at shul.

I'm there plenty, for Shabbat mornings as well as Board meetings, which is how I know that this idea of G-d isn't working for me, not at all.  For a while, I had some faith in it.  And then I stopped having faith, but I felt like I could fake my way through it, and maybe if I said the prayers, every word, maybe I'd get something in return.  But when I read Shemoneh Esrei ( I feel like a liar.  I feel like I don't believe any of what I'm saying, and then I wonder if I should really be saying it.  Particularly this part, "You sustain the living with lovingkindness, you revive the dead with great mercy, you support the falling, heal the sick, set free the bound and keep faith with those who sleep in the dust."

I know I'm not the only one who struggles, but I'm just not getting good answer on addressing my struggle.  The more time I spend at shul, the more aggravated I become.  So if you don't see me after the first day of Rosh Hashana, you'll know why.